2015 National Rally Day

120px-Old_Texas_20.svgSeptember 12, 2015 was the fifth National Rally Day – and I did a loop up to the north to pick up a few points.  My Rally number is getting a little ragged – but it still works – and I had my rally sheet and clipboard ready.

RALLY2015_ - 1

Of course, I made a little run on the highway – and my pencil disappeared. But – I found a pen in the trunk – so all was good.

NRD_MAP

Here’s the route.  Several really nice little roads. Cow Creek road from 1431 to Oatmeal was great – and I decided at the last minute to take County Road 435 south from RM501 to Llano – and it was the best road of the day. The whole route was 383 KM – a nice day’s ride.

Along Cow Creek Road

Along Cow Creek Road

Cow Creek Road runs from FM1431 to FM1174 near Oatmeal. It’s a 1-1/2 lane paved road which follows along Cow Creek. Nice roller coaster, winding, no traffic.

Cow Creek

Cow Creek

Thanks to the recent rain, Cow creek even had water.

Cow Creek Crossing

Cow Creek Crossing

This is one of the hundred-and-eight-seven (ok – maybe more like 8) creek crossings along Cow Creek road – it weaves back and forth across the creek in this narrow valley. Great way to start the ride.

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You have to stop in Oatmeal for a picture – there is actually no oatmeal at the Oatmeal festival. From Oatmeal I took CR 243 up through Bertram and on up to Briggs, then followed CR 223 along the Lampassas River into Lampassas.

Big Dang Flathead

Big Dang Flathead

Where they have a big dang flathead catfish in Campbell Park. This was worth a couple of points.

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From Lampassas, I headed west on RR501/RR508 – the country starts to feel much more like the western Hill Country out here.

CR 435

CR 435

After passing through Bend – which takes longer to type than it does to pass through, I stopped to take a look at the map. I was planning to ride RR508 do TX16, and take that south into Llano. But, I wondered if there might be something smaller that cut off RR508 – and here was San Saba CR 435. This was a good gravel road – not too much washboard – enough loose gravel to slide around a little.

CR435

CR435

And it had rained the day before – so there were some sections where there was a couple of inches of slick clay mud on the road – this was even more fun!

Burger Bar

Burger Bar

When I got to Llano, I almost turned around to run that road again – but holy moley – I was hungry – so I hit the Burger Bar.

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And they fixed me up with a burger and tots. Great burger – fresh ground beef – hand formed patty – great veggies – and the tots (most magical of fried potato products) were fried crunchy like I like them. With a giant cup of tea it hit the spot.

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Leaving Llano, I took 29 down past Buchanan Dam, and then cut south on Park Road 4. This is a nice twisty/roller coaster of a road with great views of the lake and the valley of the Colorado. My only knock on this road is it’s too popular – so I passed a dozen cars in about 15 miles – which is more than I passed the rest of the day put together.

The valley of the Colorado

The valley of the Colorado

The weather was prefect – a cold front had rolled through and dried out the air – blue skies – high was maybe 85F. Great day to ride.

Peanut Butter Pie

Peanut Butter Pie

Of course, one reason to ride Park Road 4 was to get to Marble Falls and the Bluebonnet Cafe. I was a little early for Pie Happy Hour – but – they set me up with a slice of Peanut Butter pie anyway. Good and good for you.

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Great day – great ride.

Kevo

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Ukulele?

So, I took up the Ukulele about year ago – and have been enjoying the heck out of it. Check out the Austin Ukulele Society for some fun Ukulele action. And I’ve decide I want to build my own Uke – don’t ask me why – so I bought a kit

A Box of Wood

A Box of Wood

The kit – From Waldron Music – is pretty much a box of wood – the sides are bent, the neck is machined (but not trimmed to a finished size), and the fret slots are cut – but the fretboard is untrimmed. They sent a How-To guide – which is a How-Not-To  – since none of the parts match anything in the how to – and a useless schematic drawing that I can’t get to print since it was done in color – but that doesn’t really matter since the drawing is so small I can’t read the text anyway. Probably a great kit for someone who’s build an instrument or two – but not for a neophyte like myself. But I’m a glutton for punishment – so onwards through the fog.

The first thing I did was build a jig (based on instructions from Stewart Macdonald – who actually does sell kits for beginners).

uke_build_a4There’s a block at the top and bottom, angle brackets to hold in the sides. I made a template of the body on a piece of brown paper – using measurements from the internet for a concert Uke – and traced it onto the jig. I ran the centerline up over the end blocks.

Sides in the jig

Sides in the jig

The I put the sides in one at a time, and pushed them out to match (mas o menos) the pattern, clamped them in place, and marked the centerline. I used that line to trim the sides. Then clamped them into the jig with the tail and neck blocks – as above. Once it looked reasonable – I glued everything together, and clamped it up to set.

High tech clamps

High tech clamps

The next step (for me, at least) was gluing the lining in on the top and bottom of the body. The lining is a thin piece of wood that gives a gluing surface for when you glue down the top and bottom. My lining is kerfed – so it has a bunch of small cuts so that it will bend – and break – easily. When you glue it in, you need a bunch of small clamp – clothespins are good – but I’m adding a rubber band for more oomph.

One side dry fit

One side dry fit

Before I glue anything I dry fit it – to make sure everything is good. Here’s one side of the back with the lining dry fit in place.

Glued up

Glued up

Then I smear glue on the pieces – wipe it on my pants, my shirt, my beard – anywhere I can touch, put the lining in place, try to keep it steady, and put on all my clothespin clamps.  I’ve got the body in the jig to keep everything kind of straight.

Resawing the spruce

Resawing the spruce

So, they included spruce for the braces which attach to the top and bottom – but it’s like a 1×3  piece of stock, and the braces are supposed to be ~1/4″ thick. The Waldron guys told me to just cut the spruce on my bandsaw. Uh Huh.  So, while the linings dry on the body – I re-sawed the spruce stock kind of in half. First thing I did was build these jaws for my ancient-ragged Workmate (which is also where I mount the jig). I marked the “kind of ” middle all the way around the board, and clamped it up. A great tip from Dan Julien was to use a chisel to make a starting slot – that worked great.

FIrst cuts

FIrst cuts

Then I used my rusty backsaw to cut down from each of the corners – and get a semi-straight cut going on each side.

Completing the cuts

Completing the cuts

Then I got my even rustier workbox saw. I’d cut a ways, then flip it over, cut, flip. Over and over.

Re-Sawn!

Re-Sawn!

Maybe it too twenty minutes with all the fooling around – but came out pretty good. So now I have 2 ~3/8 or so thick boards to use to cut out the braces.  I didn’t spent any time cleaning up the sawn faces – since all the braces will be planed down anyway.

Jig  - planing down braces

Jig – planing down braces

I used a couple of scraps of 1/4 lath I had laying around, and set up a little place to plane down the braces. I sawed the pieces out of my re-sawed spruce, cut them to length – then planed them sort-of square here.

Planing down a brace

Planing down a brace

I know it doesn’t look like in the picture – but the screw head is well countersunk (so far)  – so I shouldn’t bugger up my little plane blade.

uke_build_a10Here’s the braces for the top. Still more to do – but going to have to wait for another day.

Kevo

 

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In Which I Screw the Pooch

So, I installed the linings so they they stood a little proud (mostly), so I could sand them down – and make them even with the sides all the way around.

The lining stands proud

The lining stands proud

To do that I took a piece of 1/2 inch plywood, and glued a sheet of 80 grit sandpaper to it. The board is wider than the body of the uke.

Sanding board

Sanding board

So I could just sand it back and forth all the way across the back (and front)

Leveling the linings

Leveling the linings

And after a while – not all that long – everything was pretty level

Linings leveled out

Linings leveled out

Then I needed to cut out the dovetail for the neck – so I took my 1/4 inch chisel and cut away.

Cutting open the dovetail for the neck

Cutting open the dovetail for the neck

Then I started thinking – which turned out a be a big problem.

The next thing I did was glue up the braces in the back. But the back piece was rectangular – and I wanted to keep the body in the jig when I glued on the back. The helpful people at Waldron instruments had drawn pencil lines on the back and front to show the locations of the braces – and the outline of the body. So like an idiot – I took my coping saw and made a rough cut of the outline. I stayed  1/4 – 1/2 OUTSIDE of their line – which I thought (danger) was safe.  Anyway – I made a label – I’m calling the Uke Mas o Menos – More or Less – because that’s how it’s coming together. Uke_B08And after the braces were dried – I trimmed them with my offset chisel – this is a handy tool.

Trimming the braces

Trimming the braces

But when I fitted the back to the body – dammit – it was cut too close in a couple of places.

Uke_B13

Arggghhhh

So, I trimmed out the bad spots – and made patches from the scrap.

Cutting out the bad

Cutting out the bad

This is going to look like hell.

This is going to look like hell.

My rationalization is – it’s the back – it’s my first try – I can make it work. Still – going to look like hell.

The front is worse.

The front is worse.

But, I fitted the front to the body – and it’s even worse. Instead of trimming and fitting – I cleaned up the waste from the original spastic coping saw cuts – and reglued them back. There’s still going to be a visible line – but I’ll call it a design feature.

The Welcome Pad

The Welcome Pad

I bailed on the idea of using carriage bolts to clamp the back to the body when I glued it up – this is out of order – so I needed some pads so I could use 1/2 ply cauls and regular clamps – Lowe’s had these hideous welcome mats for $3.00 – so

Ukulele pads

Ukulele pads

Plenty for 2 body pads – and enough left to make pads for my wood vise jaws – I traced outline from the body – so at least these are cut right.

Glued up back

Glued up back

Here’s the back glued up.

When I get back to it I’ll be dealing with filling and trimming the patches – so we’ll get an idea how hideous this beast will be.

Now I’m going to go screw up my dinner.

Kevo

 

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Sanding, Sanding, Sanding (to the tune of Rawhide)

So, when we last left our ukulele – it had been screwed and reglued.
Uke_303Here’s the top glued up – and while I waited for that to dry, I took a look at the neck.

My Shed

My Shed

But – here’s a shot through the door of my shed – this is where I’m doing all the hard work to screw up this ukulele build.

Uke_304

The neck is not even

So, the first thingt I need to do with the neck is get the fingerboard trimmed to fit and square with the neck. Simple enough – I figured I’d just draw a line down the center of the neck, and the center of the fingerboard – line them up and Bob’s your uncle. But it looks like Uncle Cleetus cut this neck – the dovetail is not in the center of the neck – Argggg. So I had to take about 1/8″ off one side of the next to make it square with the dovetail (and ultimately the body).

Rasping the neck to sizeSo I marked the waste line, and started rasping the neck down. I have to match the profile as well – which is all kind of by eye and by feel.

The reglued top

The reglued top

So, for the top – I reglued the waste back in place from my spastic coping saw job – looks scary bad here.

Uke_309But not quite so terrible once I got the sides rasped down to within sanding distance of the body. From here I used 80, 120, 220, and 320 grit sandpaper to sand down the sides and the top and back.

Uke_306I used 3/4 and 1/2 ply with sandpaper glued in place for most of it – but for the curved bits I used some 3″ PVC pipe that I cut with my backsaw so I could hold a piece of sandpaper in place.

Uke_307I worked pretty well for the curved bits – especially at the waist.

Uke_310But mostly I used flat blocks to sand it down.  Not many pictures of  sanding – too much sawdust – which is my excuse for not taking pictures.

Uke_311There was plenty of sawdust.  And the top only looks kind of horrible now that it’s trimmed and sanded.

Uke_312After sanding down to 320 grit, the next step for the body is to use a clear filler on the wood. This just fills the pores – which on his mahogany are huge – so when we get the final finish on it will be smooth. The sealer is about the consistency of the paste we ate in kindergarten – you brush it all – and then use a bondo squeegee to squeegee it across the grain – which removes most of it – but pushes it down into the pores (theoretically).

Uke_313I let the first coat dry for a couple of hours – did another pass with the 320 – and then put on another coat of sealer. This should do it. I’ve left the body hanging up to dry – and when I get back it’s time to finish dealing with the neck.

Now I have to go practice

Kevo

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Nuts to Nuts

In which I find that the idiots that put together my kit sent me a nut that was shorter than my fingerboard.

Hanging to dry

Hanging to dry

When we last left the uke – I’d just done the second coat of filler – I use a coat hanger to hag it up to dry – and then went over the body again with 320 grit sandpaper – and then onto the neck.

Trimming the fingerboard

Trimming the fingerboard

I marked the fingerboard to match the profile of the neck – and then trimmed it to fit.

Fingerboard detail end

Fingerboard detail end

To make the detail on the end – I marked the center of the fingerboard – and then went after it with my rasp – eyeballing the profile.

When it was profiled – I trimmed the top – and then went to do the frets. You use the fret hammer to firmly tap them into the slot.

Setting a fret

Setting a fret

And then use nips to trim off the fret. Setting the frets was pretty simple.

Setting the frets

Setting the frets

uke_3_07When I eyeball the fingerboard – it appears that the frets are not exactly square – which should make the intonation interesting – I’ll call it a Jazz ukulele.

 

No nuts

No nuts

So, I get ready to glue up the fingerboard to the neck – and I pull out the nut that came with the kit – and it’s shorter than the fingerboard. This will make the action pretty tight. I glued in a scrap of wood for position – and ordered a blank classical guitar nut from Stewart MacDonald – so I’ll need to build a new nut down the road.

uke_3_10But I got the neck and fingerboard glued up.

uke_3_11And then sanded it down.

ukulele?

ukulele?

When I stuck the neck on the body it kind of looked like a uke.

Drilling holes for the spots

Drilling holes for the spots

The next thing I did was drilled hole for the fret markers that are on the 5th, 7th and 12th frets. This is when I should have been using the most important tool –

The checklist

The checklist

The checklist. If I had – then I would have put in the markers before the frets so I could easily sand down the fingerboard. But I didn’t

uke_3_14So I have to sand between the frets – and the grain is running long ways – so lots of little short strokes. A lot more work. I also only had a regular drill bit (1/4″) to cut the holes – and it did a messy job – so there was tear out at the top – they look kind of messy – I’ll have to figure out some way to fill around them at some point. uke_3_15The next step  – using my to do list – was to level the frets. You color each fret with a marker – then

Leveling the frets

Leveling the frets

Then sand with 320 sandpaper (probably should have used 400).

uke_3_17Then you look for the spots that are still colored – those are the low spots – you sand until everything is shiny – then (theoretically) all the frets are the same level.

Dressing the edges

Dressing the edges

Then I used the block to relieve the edges of the frets – at about a 45 degree angle – mas o menos.

Rounding the edges

Rounding the edges

Then used a fret file to round the sharp edges – this file only has teeth on the sides – the edges are rounded so they won’t cut the fingerboard. This went pretty quick – a few passes on each side of each fret was all it took to make them smooth.

Profiling the frets

Profiling the frets

This is a fret profiling file – the edges are the cutters – and they’re dished – so you can round off the tops of frets that have been squared off by being leveled. This just took a couple of passes as well.

Drilling the peg holes

Drilling the peg holes

Then I drilled the holes for the pegs. I used one of my tap handles and drilled them by hand – working on the theory that I would screw it up more slowly – which seemed to work.

uke_3_22I did get an $8.00 drill guide – because I had no confidence that I could drill a straight hole.

Peg holes

Peg holes

But I got them all drilled –

Hanging to dry

Then I sanded down the neck with 220 and 320, and put on the first coat of clear sealer.

I’m hoping to get the neck glued up to the body tomorrow sometime – then I’ll have to figure our the bridge – I’m thinking with the frets slanty-wise – I might have to mount the bridge cockeyed to get it close to in-tune

We’ll see

Kevo

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Ukulele!

Hey – I finished the Uke!

Gluing up the neck

Gluing up the neck

When I left you last – I’d finished with the neck – and was ready to glue it up. So I got a cam strap out of my truck, and a bar clamp – and glued it up.

Damp sand

Damp sand

I’d sanded the body and the neck separately up through 320 grit sandpaper – then – I wiped down the uke with a damp rag, let it dry, and sanded it down with first 400, then 600 grit sandpaper. The water raises the fibers of the wood – and then they get sanded off – theoretically.

Mixing up the shellac

Mixing up the shellac

I’m going to finish the uke with what’s called a French Polish. It’s not a polish at all – bat a lot of hyper-thin layers of shellac. I start off by mixing up shellac flakes with pure grain alcohol – we’re using a 2lb cut of shellac. I mixed up 1 cup – and after finishing the uke – I can’t tell that any was used.

uke_406You apply the shellac with what’s called  muneca or fad. I have a ball of gauze, and wrap it tightly in cotton (like t-shirt fabric).

The menuca

The menuca

You place a few drops of shellac at a time on the menuca – and then rub it onto the wood. I did 9 coats on my uke – I’d guess that less than a tablespoon of shellac went into those 9 coats.

Olive Oil

Olive Oil

As you get more coats on, the alcohol in the shellac will melt the previous coats, and the menca will stick or drag. When that happens you put a drop of olive oil on it – and keep going. As the alcohol dries, the oil gets forced to the surface and you just wipe it off with a rag.

uke_408Here’s after about 6 coats – it’s a pretty nice finish – not shiny like poly – but pretty deep – I like the color as well.

uke_409One of the last things I had to do was make a nut – since the one the morons at Waldork Music sent was too short. I get a bone classical guitar nut blank from Stewart McDonald, and cut it to fit.

Making a nut

Making a nut

I profiled the back a little with a file – then marked off the string positions.

uke_411And used a nut slotting file to cut the slots for the strings. I’ve got the action pretty close – but there is some buzz on the C & A strings – so I probably need to ease the back of the nut some more on those – and I might take the action down a bit more. I also profiled the saddle (also bone), and I probably need to round it a bit more – it seems a little flat – and I might be getting some buzz from there.

uke_412But it kinds of looks like a uke. Kind of sounds like a uke. I’m going to call it a uke!

 

Kevo

 

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